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NRIs in Sudan - Around 1,200-1,500 people of
Indian origin, mostly Gujaratis

Khartoum, Feb 5, 2005

Currently there are around 1,200-1,500 people of Indian origin, mostly Gujaratis, residing here. Around 800 are settled in Omdurman, around 250 in Kasala and about 300 in Port Sudan.

Dominated by Gujarati settlers, many of whom have even taken local citizenship, Indians are one of the most trusted communities in Sudan, a country that is becoming one of India's top investment destinations.

Lured by the opportunities opening up in this north African country on the threshold of peace after decades of civil war, an increasing number of Indians have started arriving here.

They are mostly involved in service and project contracts in the wake of India's exploration major Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) acquiring stakes in three blocks through its overseas subsidiary.

"The Indian community is one of the most trusted by the Sudanese. In fact, marriages between second generation Indians and locals is not uncommon," said Deepak Gupta, general manager of GAPCO (Sudan) Ltd, one of the companies owned by a non-resident Indian.

Born and educated in Bangalore, Gupta has since settled down in Tanzania and is one of the close-knit Indian groups found in African countries.

"We are a close-knit community where every festival, be it Diwali, Eid or Onam, is celebrated with great gusto in the traditional manner with everyone participating," said Gupta, who is currently based in Khartoum with his family.

"We frequently organise potluck dinners and have lots of fun playing bingo or arranging gatherings to celebrate various occasions. We even organise musical and film show evenings," Gupta told a visiting IANS correspondent.

"In addition, around 500-700 expatriates are working here. Every year around 100-150 sugar professionals come here to work in Kenana Sugar Factory, one of the world's largest integrated sugar units," said Ashok Kumar, Indian ambassador to Sudan.

Situated at the point where the Blue and the White Nile merge, Khartoum is a city under transformation with small old buildings making way for high-rise structures, villas and shopping malls.

The Afra Mall with its sprawling department store, branded outlets, bowling alley, five theatres and several other facilities is a favourite hangout for not just the affluent locals but also Indians.

As Sudan takes a cue from the shopping haven in Dubai, a large number of retail outlets are coming up along with around 50 gold jewellery outlets.

Companies from countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), South Korea, Malaysia and China have either established themselves here or are in the process of doing so to grab a larger slice of industrial, infrastructure, construction and trading activities.

"Increasingly skilled and semi-skilled workers from India are being brought here as opportunity beckons with new industrial and trading activities taking shape. These people have no problems blending into the close-knit community," said Kumar.

Having faced the problem of repatriating a large number of unskilled farm labour dumped in Sudan, the ambassador is not keen on any unskilled labour from India. On the other hand, he sees good opportunity for Indian companies to arrive early to get a chunk of business.

Abdul Khalique, commercial counsellor at the Indian embassy, cited several examples of companies like Dodsal Group, Larsen and Toubro and Hyderabad-based PTC Ltd that are on the scene undertaking projects like pipeline construction, road and other infrastructure construction and trading activity.

"What is being appreciated here is the capacity of Indians to work as a team with Chinese, Malaysian and (South) Korean colleagues. In fact, the experience of working with an international team at Heglig, where ONGC Videsh holds 25 percent stake in the Greater Nile exploration project is seen as an encouraging example," said Khalique.

There is enough scope for business in Sudan, but lack of funds is hampering taking up projects, said Gupta.

"Sudan is keen to associate with Indian companies but payments remain a major stumbling block," he added.

Many Indian companies, including ONGC, are overcoming this problem by bringing in money, manpower and skills to undertake several mega projects. IANS

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